Taliban regime merits ‘concern’ designation over religious freedom crackdown, U.S. commission says

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Monday identified Afghanistan as a “country of particular concern,” citing the Taliban’s crackdown on religious liberty in its annual report.

“The Taliban has gone after religious minorities, people that have either changed their faith or whose belief isn’t consistent with [the Taliban’s] faith, and they consider that they’ve committed apostasy by even existing in Afghanistan,” said commission Chair Nadine Maenza. 

In its 2022 report, the commission also points to Russia, Iran, India, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam among 15 nations the State Department should designate as being of “particular concern” to the United States because of their egregious repression of religious liberty. 

The Central African Republic, which had made progress in promoting religious liberty, is among a dozen nations the commission recommends for placement on a “special watch list” of nations. 

The African country’s “government and their partners have committed egregious violations of religious freedom, with targeted killings, abductions and tortures, particularly against Muslims,” Ms. Maenza said.

And the commission named “non-state actors” that the State Department should designate as “entities of particular concern,” such as al Shabab in Somalia, Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Yemen’s Houthis.

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Formed under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, the commission is an independent, bipartisan panel that monitors religious liberty worldwide, and its annual report “is intended to focus U.S. policymakers’ attention on the worst violators of religious freedom globally,” it says.

Ms. Maenza said the religious liberty situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated since the Taliban takeover last August, noting that those at the greatest risk in the country are “Christian converts, Ahmadiyya Muslims, Sikhs — almost any religious minority community left in Afghanistan could be targeted.”

She said the Biden administration should add those Afghans who are “at high risk of persecution” to the State Department’s Priority 2 list for asylum applications.

Such a change “would give religious minorities an opportunity to be able to seek refuge in the United States, and there aren’t a lot of places that are taking Afghan refugees,” she said.

Nigeria, which the State Department removed from its “country of particular concern” list in November, should again receive the designation, Ms. Maenza said.

“What we see in Nigeria is it absolutely fits the countries of particular concern test of systematic ongoing or egregious violations,” she said. “Nigeria tolerates religious violations and crimes by not intervening … it also commits them itself.

“This year, quite a few Nigerians were arrested and even convicted of blasphemy charges. And so you see that the government endorsing these kinds of laws and then also the non-state violence [against religious groups],” the committee chair said.

Ms. Maenza also noted issues with India, which she said previously had “thousands of years of beautiful religious tolerance” but has continued “to have its religious freedom conditions worsened” in the face of government policies that encourage intolerance, mob violence and “non-state actors” who attack members of minority groups.

“It is especially disappointing that it is a democracy that has embraced religious tolerance. And this really is that that Hindu nationalist thread that has power and has used that to commit attacks against religious minorities, widely throughout the government throughout the country,” she said.

The full report is available online at www.uscirf.gov.

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